Chris Kranky

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Higher quality, all roads are leading to this

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

15661_large_chicken-eggConducting interviews via WebRTC in the last weeks, I’ve noted some calls of great quality meaning great audio acoustics and stellar looking video. A quick question reveals the sender is using a built to purpose teleconferencing system (meaning really expensive). Me on my laptop is looking a little fuzzy and my sound a tad tinny.

While modern audio/video codecs provide a large improvement, it all ultimately starts with the input source. It’s been a chicken and the egg problem. Mobile operators have spent decades degrading the quality of voice all in the name of efficiency. The result – average voice minutes in the period from 2007 to 2012 have decline 15% to 587 minutes per month. India experienced an even greater decline in this same period down 68% in the same period to a mere 225 minutes per month.  In the US the average hold time is now well below the usual standard of 3 minutes (now closer to 2 minutes).

In an age of Skype quality, a traditional phone call sounds downright crappy. You want to convey the information as rapidly as possible and hang up. Lingering on the phone is so yesterday.  Steve Jobs was on the case with the introduction of dual microphones and a highly sophisticated echo cancellation system on the iPhone. Unfortunately, it was an egg with no chicken.

Similarly, the image sensor is the input source for video and historically not much attention was paid here other than a “check the box” requirement and need to keep the overall cost down to a couple of bucks. However, this trend is rapidly changing as various component manufacturers vie to up the anty with the introduction of all sorts of ground breaking technology.

Technologies  like a voice coil motor to provide image stabilization, rapid auto focus capability and post imaging noise processing. Samsung is entering this game with a new 8 megapixel sensor ISOCELL that purports to offer even greater dynamic range than current sensors which less susceptibility to blowouts and cross talk.

What? Exactly what I thought. What all this technology translates into is these  newer sensors are going to provide much high quality experience for us all (duh).

We are at the cross roads of where the chicken and the egg can finally meet up. The chicken, with WebRTC transport technology allowing for high quality audio with the Opus codec and equally high quality video with VP8 (or 9 and then there’s 10 likely).  The egg, mass improvement in the various image sensors that adorn our laptops and mobile phones.

As the quality of our experience improves, my bet, the minutes of usage will increase.